Sunday, March 16, 2014

Conservatism is a Belief, Not an Ideology

Pew research returns this fascinating factoid (pdf, p 18)
[There are] five sites that are among the most shared on Facebook, but do not rank among the most visited sites. All five are conservative-oriented news sites:,,,, and 
These sites have relatively modest audiences, with at the bottom of the list at 772,000 monthly unique visitors....Indeed on average, the four, conservative digital political sites (excluding the legacy got 22% of their traffic from Facebook referrals – far more than any other grouping of news sites.
Chris Cillizza advances this idea at Wapo:
What explains how those five conservative news sites are so actively shared on Facebook but come nowhere close to the raw traffic numbers of some more mainstream media sites? 
Here's my theory. Conservatives are a remarkably well-organized and tight-knit group. It's why every book from a conservative author shoots to the top of the best-seller list. It's why Fox News Channel's primetime programming regularly doubles that of its cable competition. It's why Rush Limbaugh has no talk radio equal among liberals. It's not terribly surprising then that organizational closeness extends to the digital space where conservative use Facebook to share stories/links from a handful of conservative websites.
This link came up in my Facebook newsfeed and I have a different take on this little nugget.

"Tight-knit and well-organized" is a generous way to describe a brainwashing feedback loop. To they resemble a cult more than any other kind of assembly. At the nether edge of respectable conservatism are all kinds of ignorant nut cases for whom beliefs transcend facts. 

They are like my father was, so hard set in their beliefs that they are unable to change, much like people with a substance abuse problem. My Dad was a good man, decent and likable in every way. But his blind spot was his inability to discern the difference between opinion and fact. He *could* change his opinion about something, but only if he was presented with a mountain of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.

The challenge was most intractable when it came to the civil rights movement. We were from Kentucky where there were not many black people. But the ones we knew we really did know. They were treasured neighbors and friends, some of whom worked with my family in some capacity. The next farm down the road from my grandfather was owned by a black family and I can remember as a child Miss Lee inviting my Dad and me to come in for a visit and she served him some of her homemade wine. I also have memories of being taken with a handful of my Dad's family to a black church or two to hear and experience gospel singing, which could be more intoxicating than any wine. That was what my growing up was like in the Fifties.

But when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was being debated, my family, like nearly all white Southern families, saw it as something essentially immoral, a departure from the way they felt God had organized the family of man. Their racism was serious and deep, a manifestation of their faith as much as any social convention. The fact that they had allowed me to play among the children of our black neighbors was never interpreted to be anything other than the way neighbors behaved decently to each other. But just because somebody lives nearby, that was not any reason, in my father's estimation, that they were suitable candidates to be an actual part of the family -- and that was the ultimate fear he faced. He never said the words, but I have heard them from more places than one: "Would you want your sister to marry one???" (I didn't always get to answer, but when I did my reply was "Which one did you have in mind? I can think of many I would love to have in the family if they would allow me to join theirs.")

What we have learned to call "Conservatism" is not really an ideology as much as it is some form of faith. It is based more on beliefs than facts in the same way that my Dad's opinions were always so embedded that they were not open for discussion. Arguing with a parent or role model about a belief is tantamount to breaking one of the Commandments, the one about honoring one's parents. And even in the New Testament can be found Paul's teaching in Romans that civil authorities are put in place by God, and it is now our place to question them. Conservatism and its cousin, Libertarianism, are tough belief systems to overcome. And that is why I see both as belief systems  rather than political ideologies.

(One of the most curious of contradictions is the attraction Ayn Rand the atheist laissez-faire capitalist has for Christian Conservatives whose faith teaches love and caring for the poor -- those core Christian principles that are making the new pope so controversial in Conservative religious circles.)

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